“I wanna be a hipster,” she says simply, pointing to her biblical tattoo and short-cropped hair in the middle of a conversation about her favorite folk music lyrics. “I’ve decided. I wanna be a hipster!” She is one of my best friends, and I generally respect her taste a great deal. But I don’t know how to react.
Maybe you can relate with her.
Maybe you most certainly cannot.
Maybe you’ve been enthusiastically jabbering on about your favorite band, independent film, art collection, or philosopher, when suddenly your conversation partner shakes their head and says, “Oh, you’re such a hipster.” You stand there in your plaid shirt, lace cardigan, maroon skinny corduroys, and vintage oxfords unsure of how to take this–and even less sure of how to respond. “Do I say ‘thank you?’ Do I shrug shamefully? Do I adamantly deny it?” This last course of action is the most dangerous, because many people believe that the strongest mark of a hipster is the inability to admit that one is, in fact, a hipster.
I felt that a lot of this trouble could be cleared up by settling on a concrete definition of what it means to be a hipster. Of course, no such definition exists. Even less-than-scholarly Urban Dictionary offers about seven encyclopedia-entry-sized explanations of this cultural phenomenon. Even so, this one seemed like a safe place to start:
“Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20’s and 30’s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.”
That doesn’t sound too repulsive, does it? Especially for an Urban Dictionary definition. Those can get grody.
Honestly, I want to be a lot of those qualities described in the above definition. I am a lot of those qualities. I love me some intelligent, witty banter and independent thinking. I’m a huge fan of art and indie music. I keep close tabs on progressive politics. I’m creative. I’m in my twenties.
Am I a hipster? And more importantly, is that a bad thing?
What People See as Desirable About Hipster Culture:
Creativity and experimental fashion
So the style in the hipster world is pretty fly. It’s incredibly diverse and usually an eclectic mix of a variety of other styles–bohemian, punk, preppy, scuzzy lumberjack, etc. I know labels are the worst, but words are what we use to make sense of the world, so deal with it, hipster readers. My point is, their fashion and beauty creations tend to be interesting and refreshing.
Also, this gallery of celebrities re-imagined as hipsters is my favorite thing since Benedict Cumberbatch photobombed U2 at the Oscars.
Refusing to get caught up in fads
I dislike sweeping fads as much as the next person, although a job in marketing basically means I have to make a career out of studying them. So when a chunk of the population says, “No, thanks,” and continues to do their own thing despite social pressure, I enjoy that. I appreciate the courage to be oneself without needing the approval of the masses. I knew a girl in college who got engaged to her boyfriend without a ring because they didn’t see the point. I think that kind of freedom has to feel so good.
A genuine appreciation for the arts
Yes, some hipsters only listen to the music they listen to or watch the movies they watch because no one else does. Others, however, really look for a higher standard of quality when it comes to the media they consume. While the masses are content to watch Transformers, hipsters call BS and curl up with The Iron Giant instead. I also notice that hipsters are more likely to be interested in theatre and visual art. Sure, it can feel like snobbery at times, but I really admire it.
A genuine appreciation for vintage culture and nostalgia
I am all about nostalgia lately. I cry thinking about bygone days when people didn’t take a miniature telephone/computer with them every time they left the house. I like it when hipsters value the past and the simple life. They upcycle grandma’s old jewelry and dad’s old trousers. They ride bikes and tune up old record players. This kind of respect for the things of the past is heart-warming to me.
Enjoying knowledge for the sake of knowledge
This might not be an “official” hipster trait, but it’s something that I’ve noticed. Hipsters generally like to know things about the things they like. They make a hobby of gaining knowledge about their hobby. These are the people who read Bukowksi for fun and study coffee growing and roasting techniques. Fine by me. If you care about something, invest some time and effort into it, I say.
P.S. But remember no one likes a know-it-all.
Frugality and resourcefulness
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with appreciating vintage goodies, but hipsters really are responsible for thrifting being as popular as it is now. No, it wasn’t Macklemore. We were doing it before it was cool.
A desire to discuss important topics
Again, maybe not a hallmark of all hipsters, but it’s a trend I’ve seen. Those I’ve encountered who fit the hipster mold are eager to engage with others about social justice issues like feminism, marriage equality, and human trafficking as well as political and economic topics. I personally find it delightfully refreshing to encounter people who are not only educated about what’s happening in the world around them but who also think and feel passionately about those happenings.
What People See as Repellant About Hipster Culture:
Refusing to acknowledge genuine talent and quality just because it is popular or “mainstream”
This drives me freaking nuts. Yes, Lady Gaga is an overrated mainstream fame-monger. That does nothing to change the fact that she is a stellar vocalist and an out-of-this-world performer. Just admit it! Millions of people love her for a reason! Why does that deter you from admitting she is good?! I can’t even . . .
Seriously, I have never been able to wrap my head around the “They’re famous now, so I can’t like them anymore” thing. They’re famous because they’re good, for crying out loud!
Condescension or snobbiness
You’ve all felt it–judgment from a holier-than-though hipster who felt the need to inform you that your fedora is actually a trilby or that your Chai tea isn’t fair trade. Nuff said.
Excessively expensive or excessively abnegating lifestyles
These are two sides of the same coin. (Abnegation is a 50-cent word for denying yourself things you want). Both extremes are bad as far as I am concerned. Some hipsters are the style who will blow their money on organic everything and memorabilia signed by the Smiths. Others are the kind who won’t wear shoes or eat chocolate in order to make a statement. I’m not a fan of either.
WORST EVER: Caring about being different more than they care about interpersonal connection
This takes the cake in terms of bad hipster qualities. It’s unfortunately come to be the signature of hipsters everywhere. These people find their sense of self in participating in only aspects of culture that are unknown or “underground.” Often the minute these bands, or anime series, or clothing brands, or whatever begin to become popular, their hipster followers will abandon ship and move on the the next heretofore undiscovered thing. It’s as if the only way they can be truly unique is to like things that hardly anyone else likes.
They form their identity based on the things they enjoy rather than the people they enjoy them with.
The irony? Now hipsterism itself has become popular, so the hipsters have nowhere to go. They’re having a massive identity crisis.
So Who Do I Want to Be?
In light of acknowledging the positive and negative aspects of hipsterism, what can those of us who are “on the fence,” if you will, conclude about who we want to be going forward? I can only speak for myself, but I think I’ve learned some important lessons in studying hipsters.
I want to be myself first of all. And I want to be with people second.
Being myself means that if I do or do not like or care about something, I will be honest about it–to myself and to the world.
Being with people means that I will never let these passions alienate me from those I encounter. I will embrace connection.
Yes, I occasionally enjoy some obscure and/or unpopular things. That just means I’m all the more delighted when I meet someone who shares that interest. If we have that obscure thing in common, odds are we have other things in common and we’ll probably hit it off! Yes, my style of dress is a little unorthodox sometimes (not so much anymore,) but I do it to feel happy and free about my appearance, not to scare people away. Yes, I value academic intelligence and being politically and socially aware, but why would I want to keep those things to myself by avoiding people who are not “up to my standard?”
I want to love and be loved, and if I can love on someone while we both love on existentialist philosophy, Chvrches, Attack on Titan, matcha green tea, blackbox theatre, pad thai, and Modcloth, that does not threaten my sense of self at all.
Why can’t we all embrace intelligence, activism, resourcefulness, creativity, critical consumption of media, multiculturalism, and other admirable qualities without trying to label such things as being counter-cultural and “hipster?”
Alienating ourselves from others through our cultural identity is unhealthy, but so is mindlessly consuming the pop culture fed to us on a large scale. That’s why I love the fact that hipsterism is not a subculture anymore. Hipsterism is becoming mainstream because people are realizing that they can explore the culture beyond what is readily accessible to them and in so doing encounter others who are also happy to challenge the status quo.
Yes, we are all forming our own identities, but our identities are tangled up in the people we let into our worlds. Let’s fill those worlds with the things we love and trust that they will attract people who we might come to love as well.